Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 16

Robert Forster – ‘Remain’ from ‘Inferno’ LP

In the absence of any new Goon Sax records in 2019 it is left to Louis Forster’s dad Robert to uphold family honour in the Unpopular advent series. Not that there was ever any doubt that he would do so, for when has Robert Forster been anything less than a magnificent icon of articulate, assured Pop awkwardness, after all?

‘Inferno’ is certainly that and more, and was there a finer image in 2019 than that of Robert pushing a mower through the overgrown lawns in the video to the album’s title track? Truly magnificent.

‘Inferno’ though is perhaps the outlier track on the album in that it is relatively upbeat, at least in pace and punch, whilst elsewhere the mood is certainly more lugubrious and sedate, although always with a tension in the manner in which space and tones fit but never quite fit. ‘Inferno’ is a humane record in the sense that it is human in scale (thirty five minutes all in) which is to say that it is a record that knows the pleasure of brevity and the value of choosing our phrases carefully. In many places Forster uses the record to remind us of (our) lives spanning time, through characters that inhabit lyrics which might be slivers from novels or half-dreamt snatches of cinematic dialogue trapped between the shutters of the projector like Ed Ruscha paintings flickering in the twilight of Todd Hido photographs.

‘Remain’ is the song we keep coming back to, for it is one that is surely auto-biographical but that also neatly sidesteps away from that notion by the simple conceit of Robert imagining himself as the silver-screen actor or auteur we once suggested he might have been in an alternate universe or time. But this isn’t Terry Malloy telling us he could have been a contender. Forster’s character is too confident in his own skin and reconciled with his experiences for that. He effortlessly walks the finely balanced line between self-assured insouciance and over-inflated self-importance, the dignified charm of the genuinely blessed always winning through. It’s possible that comes with age of course. Perspective. Acknowledgement that massive public acclaim may have been missed, but oh, he still knows those performances, that work is invaluable. That work is great, and the love of the ones who’ve spotted the treasures is plenty to sustain us in the darkness through and into which we inevitably must tread.

This is the sound of Robert Forster telling us that Robert Forster knows the score, even if most of the world have been oblivious. It is the sound of Robert Forster telling us that Robert Forster understands the value of work and the value of love (we can imagine Forster nodding sagely along with Reed and Cale singing about Warhol’s ‘Work’ on ‘Songs For Drella’). This is the sound of Robert Forster reminding us that Robert Forster can do magic to turn backs. Effortlessly and magnificently. Still and always.

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